Within thirty minutes, our boat had made a sharp turn and reached the edge of the memorial. We stepped out and walked up the ramp to the building, observing how people waited at the ramp to take the same boat for the journey back to the visitor center. What struck me was the palpable silence all around us, despite the presence of over a hundred tourists.
I gazed at the white edifice which was close to two hundred feet long and stood at least one story high. The sides of the structure looked like two peaks connected by the dip in the middle. I recalled the narrator in the information movie, “There is a sag in the middle of the structure, it rises towards both sides.” The edges represent strength. The sag in the middle represented the initial defeat, but followed by rising up to the strong ends with the ultimate victories.
Amazing Grace came floating across the air. The bright sunlight filtered in through the seven windows on either side. The ceilings had openings to give the impression the windows had moved up. I approached a window. An elderly man dressed in white shirt and blue jeans stood there hands firmly clasping the railing. He stood with his head bowed. The outline of the sunken ship was visible below. As I drew closer, however, I realized that his eyes were closed, seemingly in prayer. To respect his privacy, I moved past him, seeking another area. The boat that ferried us would take us back in a few minutes. The time each group could spend on the memorial was predetermined. I looked out, the next boat had just started sailing towards the memorial.
I approached the wall at the far end of the memorial. The names of the sailors lost on that fateful day were etched on white marble. Nearby stood two other slabs of marble, each two feet high, with some more names marked on it. What was the second list about, I wondered! I noticed a naval officer who had taken up a position in that area and was answering questions from visitors. He was pointing to that wall as he continued offering answers and explanations. I stepped closer so that I could listen to what he had to say.
“There were several survivors from that attack and many of them have passed away since,” he said in a clear voice, adding, “some of them wished to spend the rest of eternity close to their fellow sailors who died that day.”
Many of the surviving sailors had expressed a wish to be cremated, requesting that their ashes be preserved in an urn and placed in the wreckage of the ship below the waters of Pearl Harbor. The Navy honors that request to this day and a special ceremony is held for every such occasion when it arises. The name of the retired sailor being added to the list on the second slab of marble.
The next part of the tour of Pearl Harbor took me to the battleship USS Missouri that was visible a few hundred meters from the USS Arizona Memorial. Having served during the Second World War, it had finally been decommissioned and anchored at Pearl Harbor, where it now serves as a museum. Its presence was significant.
Strolling along the decks I followed the signs to the surrender marker. On the wooden floor a yellow metal plate marked the spot where the table was set for the signing of the surrender instrument by the Japanese. The ship was berthed that day at Tokyo Harbor. The unconditional surrender of Japan was signed on this battleship on 2 September 1945, leading eventually to the end of the Second World War.
I had noticed the picture postcard at the first souvenir shop I had visited in Honolulu. The gigantic guns of a ship pointing to the USS Arizona Memorial. I wanted to get that picture for my memories. From the surrender spot I could see the guns on the ship and mentally chalked the path I would take to find the right spot above those guns. I used my right hand to lift the camera above a short glass wall and clicked. The picture captured the battleship USS Missouri facing the white memorial over the sunken ship USS Arizona– the beginning and end of the Second World war for the United States. Six silver color gigantic guns of the USS Missouri stood guard over the fallen sailors. A white boat approached the USS Arizona memorial with another group of visitors.
Pearl Harbor: www.pearlharbor.org includes information on tours.
Honolulu is a ten hour flight from the New York City area and a five hour flight from the cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles in the State of California.
For Hawaii: www.gohawaii.com
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